I haven't written in a while, ne? And I should be updating my chapter stories, even. I'm just very, very lazy nowadays. No, not lazy, sorry. TIRED. There. School is still a killer, like always. Only know, I think it's giving me a slow and very painful death.

This story was written months ago and I think I just forgot to post it. It's my sickness, being forgetful.

I've got some sort of a ShikaIno here. Not ShikaInoShika, sadly. So, you get my point. And this is my first try at a topic like this and it might suck, I guess.

Note: I assure you, everyone, 'Hotaru' is a name for girls. Check it out in www dot behindthename dot com. And this is pretty short, so don't expect anything more than 3,000 words.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.


"Brown eyes…"

He would only watch her lift the child into her arms, ardently loving it with a longing he never knew. Every strand on the toddler's head was heavier than his life, Shikamaru convinced himself. The smile of that tiny baby was worth fighting for. He loved that child more than he could ever love himself. Yet, Ino wants him to do otherwise.

As Ino combed the lass' thin blond strands, she'd softly whisper to the ever-so young Hotaru, who understood neither words nor gestures, "Baby, you be a good girl always, yes?" Responsively, the girl nodded her head without much thought. Her mother doesn't even realize that it was no use. Such children would know very little of everything. They response, but hardly understand.

The scene melts Shikamaru's heart without fail. Holding the dirty plates with his two hands while he stood before the sink, Asuma's favorite student could not help but carve a small and failed to be resisted grin. Ino's daughter was adorable just like how her mother was beautiful to no extent.

"Beautiful brown eyes, I tell you…"

"Mommy loves you very much, yes I do, Hotaru," Ino assured the pouting child, circling her slender fingers around the girl's delicate wrists, "And Mommy will do everything to take care of you." It softened Shikamaru's heart to hear Ino talking like that. He knew that there was a part like this in a person like Ino. No one but he saw it.

Snapping into reality, Shikamaru quickly slid the ceramic plates he held into the sudsy liquid that bathed the utensils and plates of their last meal. As if he wasn't gazing at the two blondes earlier, he immediately went to snatching the sponge and scrubbing the grime out of the surfaces of the plates. Still, Ino's voice haunted him from behind.

He heard Ino lay a gentle and sincere kiss on Hotaru's full cheek before saying, "I love you, Hotaru, okay? Mommy loves you." Shikamaru tried to imagine what the panorama he was missing once again seemed to be. It was so every night. He would not see the sparkle of the child's eyes and the curve of her petite lips. How he would do all to see them.

"Beautiful, beady, brown eyes, I'll say."

"Mommy…" Hotaru mumbled as she held onto her mother's finger, grasping as if her security depended ultimately on it, "Daddy love me, too?" Her incorrect words, although wrongly used, were very clear. Shikamaru dropped a plate, suffering from a miniature heart attack.

But Ino kept her beam tight, covering the distress, telling the child, "Daddy Sai loves you more than anything. But Daddy can't always be here."

Instinctively, Shikamaru went back to washing the dishes, pretending not to be listening to the conversation of mother and daughter. But the acid in his throat bore a hole in his own heart. And happily, Hotaru had fervently nodded in glee. She was contented. With that, Ino stood up, straightening up from kneeling in order to be in Hotaru's face level and led her daughter up the room.

"Yes, those are deep brown eyes. Rare, don't you think?"

But in the middle of the flight of stairs, Hotaru looked back at Shikamaru, who had glued his gaze on the broken plate that lay in his drenched hands. Ino noticed the child's halt and waited to see what was the matter. Suddenly, Hotaru raised her hand and waved. "Good night, Daddy!" she called out to the now-shocked Jonin, "Love you!" And there, merrily, Hotaru skipped up the stairs with her mother.

The distortion that swirled in Ino's face grew. Turning to look at Shikamaru if he bothered to turn and answer, Ino's brows met in a fuming sense. With that, and after seeing that Shikamaru did not have the nerve to respond to her daughter, Ino proceeded to say, "Silly, child. That's Uncle Shikamaru. Daddy Sai will be home soon." And there, she went up the stairs, finally.

As for Shikamaru, he swears he felt a hollow ball of air run roughly down his throat.

"I love them."


Wiping the last plate dry, Shikamaru felt darkness consume him. Night has fallen older and he was sure that he'd be home late again. This obligation doesn't fit him. He felt too feminine. So much for a being chauvinist.

The rhythm of steps descending the teal stair steps jolted him, almost causing him to drop another plate. "Dishes done?" was the first thing that greeted him. Ino's chilly voice strangled him. He couldn't breathe with her reaching for her coffee mug from the top shelf, just beside him. "If you are," she muttered, not making eye contact with him, "you can go."

Seeing her difficulty in attaining the mug, Shikamaru voluntarily wiped his damp hands with a hand towel and offered vaguely, "Here, let me." Hearing this, Ino stepped back from the counter, allowing him to get it for her. As he stretched his arm over their heads in order to take her mug, Shikamaru knew that there was no peace between them.

Once Shikamaru had gotten hold of the mug, he then handed it to her as she growled, unable to keep it going on anymore, "Shikamaru, why do you do this?" Her sneer crawled up on him, immobilizing him in a way. Her eyes still danced before him, but her anger was inextinguishable, "Why do you visit us everyday and pretend to be such a part of this household?"

Shikamaru felt his lips purse, stuck like Siamese. But Ino gave one more question, "Why do you pretend to be the father?"

Almost hesitantly, as he put down the hand towel, he murmured passively, "I do all these things because I care." Clearly, he was trying to cover the face that yelled to Ino of how much he loved the family… his family… his daughter… his lover…

"I don't know if you can tell, but you're being too comfortable. Sai always wonders why you're here, don't you know?" Ino snapped as she spooned several servings of coffee powder into her mug, "Seeing you here, helping me with the house chores, taking care of my little girl…" she paused to heave an airy sigh, "It hurts me in a way."

Silence wrapped them with the invisible barrier separating the never-apart Pyramus and Thisbe. Irony collided.

She continued with a raised voice, "You're selfish to be doing all this to me! You don't think of what your actions do to me and my family!" With her hand slicing the air, every honest statement echoed through Shikamaru, "If Hotaru wasn't in the house, I'd be shoving you out of my house without any hesitation!"

No tears came into her eyes. But his eyes welled with it. His deep brown eyes. "I don't know why you're so pissed with how I'm doing all I can to help you get through this. I come here everyday," Shikamaru mumbled quietly, wishing Ino had always understood, "to do my duty in this family—"

"You're not the father!" she yelled at him, the creases forming on her brow from the fire that crushed her, "I don't want you to be! And you never will be! I didn't want it to be that way!" Her grip on her coffee mug intensified. A sniffle escaped her as she admitted, "It's because I don't love you, Shikamaru." She swallowed hard. "Damn it, I don't."

But, Ino has always known that Shikamaru is the real father. His blood dwells with hers within Hotaru. And not even Tsunade could change that.

All Shikamaru did was stand still and keep his face straight. Ino was lying. She had to be. She must be. He remembers everything well. She keeps playing like she never knew that she and Shikamaru knew each other once. She tried to convince herself that it wasn't Shikamaru's warmth that kept her inspired under the stars.

She was his, and it was her will. Why did she want to forget?

Rubbing the back of her hand against the lily of her eyes, Ino said, "I know you don't love me, too, and I know you've always found me troublesome, so… so…" Shikamaru wanted to listen to what else she had to say. "Sai is the father, I know he is." She whispered, looking for a light of hope that never exists, "S-Somehow, he agrees to it. It just so happened that…" she halted for a moment before she concluded, "It just so happened that Hotaru has your eyes."

But then, the flame in her eyes returned. "Look, I don't know how things ended up this way and I definitely don't know how Hotaru became… ours in the first place if I didn't love you. But no matter what the case be, just leave me and my daughter alone." Her demand strikes him like a cobra's spitfire. But the anguish was unbearable.

Shikamaru opened his mouth to speak. He wanted to tell her that she was wrong. He had always loved her, despite the imperfections that bring her to life. She should've know. Still, the coarse tone from his throat spoke…

"So be it."

Giving one last gesture to Ino—a nod—, Shikamaru exited her home, leaving behind two of the most important people in his life. It was not his plan to abandon them this easily. He was prepared for a fight with her, a fight for his right as the father, a fight for his right to look after them as long as he still can. Unfortunately, his love was mistaken for charity. It was a pity… too much of a pity.

Watching him make his way from the house, past the door, Ino's heart bore, proving to be heavier than before. She clutched her mug in despair, cursing to herself. She was the selfish one. She had already known that it was just her and Hotaru here. Sai rarely came home for them. Sai barely loved them. For him, they were infinitely troublesome.

With Shikamaru around, there were less chores, less fuss, less despair. Most of all, it brought joy and enlightenment to Hotaru, bringing confidence within her. Hotaru was very much convinced that her Daddy loved her… enough to try to break the barriers of a broken and complicated family of a midlife crisis.

Leaving her half-filled mug of powdered coffee, Ino crept up the stairs, her hand on her teary eyes. As she dragged her feet through the second-floor hallway, she could only recall anything that could bring more remorse to her than ever.

The fact that it was the Naras who supported her by giving her a separate house for her and her daughter built guilt in her. The fact that Sai was almost forced into helping her in raising the child even if they were dating raised her fury a little higher than a while ago. But the fact that Shikamaru still had the heart to watch over her and Hotaru without her call for help made her wish she could just die.

"Mommy." The faint voice forced Ino to turn to her daughter's bedroom door. There, the blonde tot stood by the half-open door in her pajamas, scratching her eyes. "Mommy, nightmare." She muttered, near to crying, "Scared." It seemed that she had a nightmare in such a short time of sleep.

Immediately, Ino rushed to her baby and scooped her up into her arms. Kissing Hotaru's forehead, Ino cooed almost sadly, "It's okay, Hotaru, it's okay. Mommy gets nightmares, too. Mommy also gets scared. But it's fine now. No more nightmare." The drowsy child pressed herself nearer to her mother's chest, holding on to her mother's finger again for comfort.

"Do you know what Mommy does when she gets nightmares?" Ino murmured, smiling at the child with the lasting tears in her eyes. In reply, her daughter shook her head, somewhat eager to find out.

Holding her daughter closer, Ino admitted, "Daddy always does his best to make it go away. He always does, even when I don't ask for it." Lovingly, she wrapped her arms tighter around her child, wrapping her in the same warmth Shikamaru would offer her.

"Daddy Sai?" Hotaru mouthed, blinking her eyes to expel the loose tears.

"No," Ino croaked in despair, choking in her tears and sorrow, "Daddy Shikamaru."